Metaphors and Symbols in A Tale of Two Cities

Stone facades and structures figure prominently in the story and almost always reflect some characteristics of the persons or action being described. For instance, the Marquis St. Evremonde stone chateau and its various carved images are used to convey the unyielding arrogance of its inhabitant and the manner in which he becomes simply another feature in its statuary. This line begins when the peasant woman asks for an engraved stone to mark her husband’s pauper grave. The Marquis rudely refuses and then returns to his chateau, described as a “heavy mass of a building” and a “stony business altogether” (114). The stony face closest to his window is said to have its mouth open and to appear “awe-stricken” at the sight of its master’s dead body. The Marquis’ face in death is characterized as being like “a fine mask, suddenly startled, made angry and petrified” (125). Later in the story, the image of the bloody grindstone outside Tellson’s Paris office acts as a metaphor for the hard, unyielding fury of the mob and serves as contrast to the interior apartment which shelters the Manette’s and Mr. Lorry. Stone is also used as a metaphor for the inevitability of fate as in the chapter entitled “Drawn to the Loadstone Rock” (Book II, Chapter 24) that details Darnay’s decision to return to France clearly illustrates.

The footsteps that echo outside the Manette’s Soho home are in Lucie’s fancy symbolic of the numerous people that she believes will enter into her family’s life. She perceives them as dangerous to her life and Carton immediately states “I take them into mine” which foreshadows his willingness to sacrifice himself to the Paris mob in Darnay’s place. Later in the story the symbolic footsteps are shown to be those of the Paris mob when Mr. Lorry visits the Soho home at the start of the revolution and remarks that the echoing footsteps are “very numerous and very loud” that evening. The next scene is that of the storming of the Bastille which are the footsteps “stained red, the footsteps raging in Saint Antoine afar off” (99-100).

Knitting / Shoemaking
These two normally innocuous tasks become symbolic of much more dire things in the course of the story. In Madame Defarge’s hands the act of knitting is transformed from a wholesome activity of the home to a method of keeping a list of people to be killed. As such, her knitting becomes an important symbol in the story. When Madame Defarge converses with the spy Barsad, for instance, she knits his name into her register and later he acquiesces to Carton in part because he remembers “with fear and trembling, that that terrible woman had knitted when he talked with her, and had looked ominously at him as her fingers moved” (298-99). Knitting also takes the place of eating and becomes symbolic of the suffering in the Saint Antoine district as in the scene in which Madame Defarge moves among the women of her street, all of whom are knitting. The narrator remarks that “They knitted worthless things; but, the mechanical work was a mechanical substitute for eating and drinking . . . if the bony fingers had been still, the stomachs would have been more famine-pitched” (182). Like knitting, the work of making shoes is taken from its normal associations with craftsmanship and wholesome productivity and becomes a symbol of Doctor Manette’s mental instability. When Lucie first encounters him he is engaged in the task of making shoes which he ceases only when he hears her voice and begins the process of overcoming his derangement. Later, when he has a relapse, he returns to shoemaking but after recovering his senses he remarks to Mr. Lorry that he is loathe to part with his shoemaking implements because “it relieved his [Dr. Manette’s] pain so much, by substituting the perplexity of the fingers for the perplexity of the brain, and by substituting, as he became more practiced, the ingenuity of the hands, for the ingenuity of the mental torture” (200). As the outward symbol of the doctor’s mental illness, Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross spare no effort in their “murder” of the shoemaking tools but later, when Darnay has been sentenced to die because of the doctor’s Bastille manuscript, the doctor has a relapse and begs pitifully for the tools of his prison occupation.